Well, yes, we took the 13.5m option and we were very glad we did. It was a long walk but the scenery and the variety on this section made it a real pleasure and not in any way a chore. The time seemed to pass by very quickly and the walk didn't drag out like the final section of leg 2 had.
We met in the same pub car park where we finished leg 2 and set off for St Mary Bourne. By the time we arrived five hours later we'd seen watermeadows, villages, farmland, forest and downland. We'd walked on a busy road, another dismantled railway line, through overgrown woodland tracks, cutways between houses and fields.
This was definitely the standout section of the walk so far. It delivered exactly what Miche and I had hoped to get out of The Test Way, and what I think my dad was hoping for too.
One of the things that has really struck me about this section of the walk is how remote sections of it felt. At one point we seemed deep in woodland and at another we skirted around some farmland and within minutes found ourselves walking across rolling downland. It was all very attractive on the eye but, most pleasingly, through big sections of this walk we didn't see anyone else at all. We were in deepest, darkest Hampshire, that was for sure.
Well... yes it was deep, but it certainly wasn't dark. In fact this was the type of enlightening experience I hoped for when I started this blog. In my first post I talked about walking The Test Way to discover not only my local area but "the world immediately beyond it", and I really feel like I'm starting to achieve this now. These parts of Hampshire are areas that you cannot really discover by road - yes, you can visit Longparish and Stockbridge and Wherwell and St Mary Bourne, but you don't really "see" them by car. Walking a footpath like this helps you really discover them, gets you under the skin a little bit, and shows you how the whole community links together.
I guess it shows you the facade of this string of villages (that drivers see) but also the bits in between because, when you think about it, they weren't always linked by tarmac roads which you tear along at 40 or 50 miles an hour in your family hatchback - they were once linked only by these footpaths and some tracks. A couple of hundred years ago no one would have been able to pass this countryside by without "seeing" it, but these days we drive so fast that we have no choice but to keep our eyes on the road.
So I guess to that extent we've started to achieve our aim - seeing the world that's around us, the world we usually miss because it's hidden away in our peripheral vision, not even registering as we try to make sure our vehicles stay on the road.